Berwin Leighton waves NY farewell

BERWIN Leighton's 13-year experiment in running a US office has ended with the news that one of its American lawyers is being investigated over allegedly misappropriated office funds.

The firm, which opened in New York in the boom years for UK investment and was staffed by US lawyers practising American law, announced the closure last week.

Berwin Leighton managing partner Bernard Bartlett said the decision to close the office was taken about a year ago and the discovery of financial irregularities was not connected to it.

A statement from the firm says the investigation centres around contract (salaried) partner Stephen Mighdoll.

The statement says: “In September 1995 Mr Mighdoll submitted his resignation to the New York Bar and left the firm. He has since made disclosure to the office of the District Attorney and the firm has made its own representations as part of the legal process which continues.”

It stresses: “No clients of the firm, either in the US or the UK, have suffered any financial loss as a result of Mr Mighdoll's activities.”

Bartlett said the firm had considered its overseas offices in a review and decided that, with the exception of the Brussels office, “our strategy should be to build our overseas contacts with established overseas firms. We therefore decided the correct decision was to close our office in New York.”

The office has seven legal staff, including one equity partner, Geoffrey Chinn. Bartlett said all of them had found other positions outside the firm, although it is not clear what will happen to Chinn.

The New York office flourished in the early and mid-1980s when the pound was strong, but felt the sting of the US recession in recent years when property work fell away.

Berwin Leighton had a short-lived (five months) association with US law firm giant Finley Kumble, which fell apart with reputed liabilities of $76 million.